Name: Mfiondu Kabengele
Years in the NBA: 1
Key Stats: Kabengele appeared in 12 games for the Clippers this season, but only two came in real minutes before garbage time.
The rookie played and started 27 games in the G League this year. He averaged 18.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 31.2 minutes per game for the Agua Caliente Clippers.
Future contract status: Kabengele is entering year two of his rookie deal after being drafted by the Clippers in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft. The team will decided before the start of the season whether to pick up the option for the third year of his contract.
The Clippers must have really liked Kabengele — or just Leonard Hamilton and Florida State in general — because they traded into the first round to pick the former Seminole big in last year’s draft.
Although he was the team’s highest draft pick, the glut of bigs on the NBA roster meant that Kabengele spent most of his rookie season in the G League. He couldn’t even crack the rotation during the preseason, appearing sparingly over five games. He was only on the NBA roster when the Clippers suffered injuries, and even then, he only really played in blowouts. Despite the team’s interest in Kabengele’s long-term potential, he was on the outside looking in for most of the season.
That became a literal manifestation of Kabengele’s role during the bubble, as the team elected to leave him out of the restart altogether and bring an extra staff member to Orlando. He missed out on the entire experience, from the workouts and practices to the postseason action, leaving him further behind the 8-ball going into his sophomore season.
Kabengele projects as a stretch big who can toggle between the four and the five. At 6’10, the Clippers could have used him as a traditional center with Agua Caliente with his back to the basket — bigs of his size tend to have an easier time in the G League because there simply aren’t as many players who are that tall. Kabengele can certainly play the part of a traditional five, posting up, finishing lobs, and beating the defense to putbacks. He converted 73.4% of his shots that came at the basket.
But the Clippers were more intentional in how they used Kabengele. Of his 14.2 field-goal attempts per game, only 4.7 came within five feet of the hoop. Kabengele ran a good deal of pick-and-roll, but the part of his game the team wants to develop is his popping ability. He took 6.1 3-pointers per game, an incredible volume for a center, and far more than the 1.8 3-point attempts he took in college.
His jumper looks smooth already, and he’s already been able to get the defense to respect his shooting ability, which opens up the lane for drives. He’s does a good of cutting into the paint to receive dump-offs.
But it wasn’t simply his offense that earned him a spot on the G League All-Star team. He’s a good defensive rebounder, and he really shined as a shot blocker. His block rate of 5% was better than the leading NBA centers. A big who can protect the basket and stretch the floor is pretty much the holy grail in team building.
Kabengele can’t technically be a stretch big until he starts to hit threes at a league-average rate. He currently makes 32.3% of his triples; that figure will have to go up to 35% before the team feels comfortable with him launching at the NBA level.
He also isn’t much of a passer yet. When he gets the ball on offense, the shot is going up. Furthermore, his block rate obscures the fact that he isn’t a great team defender. He can recover in the G League, but he looked a little out of sorts any time he was on defense in the NBA. That could be a function of minimal playing time, but he isn’t going to earn more until the team is convinced that he can hang on that end of the floor.
Future with the Clippers:
The Clippers only have so many young players moving forward, and they don’t even know what they have yet in Kabengele, so it’s too soon to move on from him. He’ll be on the team next year and can hopefully be the third center in the rotation to earn more than just mop-up minutes.
This is a bit of a cop-out, but Kabengele only played 64 NBA minutes this season, the last of which came on February 9. When he hits the 100-minute mark, he’ll get a grade.